Saturday was to be our last ‘team training’ ride before the LEJOG. In the end there were four riders – Bryan, John, Sam and myself. John cycled to mine and we headed the 5 or so miles to the “Club House” to meet the others. The four of us set off to do an ‘easy pace’ 60 miles or so, but we were soon moving at a blistering pace on route to Stirling, a slight tail wind helping us reach a comfortable 20mph+ average. The miles slipped by, with us occasionally riding 2×2 to chat as we easily moved along what felt like gentle downhill roads, with barely any inclines in our way. We passed through Denny and Bannockburn, and soon arrived at Stirling. A small boy called out “look, its the Tour de France” as we whisked by – the first (and probably last) time I’ll be mistaken for a pro’ cyclist.
As we turned back from Stirling along the A811, the effort required jumped up as we were now facing into the same wind that had helped us along so far. Bending low on the bars for my stints behind the man at the front to save energy, tucking even lower when my turn at the front came along, we worked our way along the road, breaking the momentum in our changes only briefly to snap a quick ‘overtaking’ photo for John.
This turned out to be costly, as unaware of our antics, Sam powered on while the rest of us messed about, and a ‘chase’ to get back on his wheel ensued, lead by myself as the next man in the train. Just as we caught him up, his 0.5 mile stint completed, and I took over at the front, still out of breath from the pursuit. Not to worry, once my turn at the front was over, I’d have time to recover on the back of the train. Not quite, as just as I peeled off the front, we were starting the climb up the Kippen hill, so drafting was going to be of little help. Bah.
a fun 4.5 minutes going up the Kippen hill
We climbed pretty much as a group, pausing briefly at the village to regroup for the final stretch of the ascent. At the top, a quick stop turned into a slightly longer break as Bryan fixed a creaking saddle and Sam’s electronic gears needed some attention.
The ride down was taken steadily, with only a brief mile or two before the Crow Road and our second and final climb of the day. The Crow Road was at the end of my first ever outing on the bike, back in a chilly, wet November last year when I was completely new to modern cycling and could barely work the gears and worries of falling off while ‘clipped in’ were a distinct possibility. So it was apt that the last climb in my final training ride before our LEJOG would also be on that same hill. Back then, cycling up-hill at any sort of speed was a distant dream – I’d chug uphill at barely over walking pace, often thinking I’d be quicker hopping off the bike and running, as my more cycle-experienced team-mates fast vanished into the distance, seeming to glide uphill with barely any effort. Not so today. We all moved up together, Sam and John taking the lead, our speed barely dropping below 10mph except on the steepest sections. Bryan fell off a little, so as we made the top we were one man short, but the descent would be followed by a stop to regroup. My bottle bounced out of its cage at the car park, a fellow cyclist going uphill recovering it for me, as I braked hard and was working out how on earth to turn back up hill to recover it when sat in my top gear (walking was my plan). Bottle back on board I continued down to the turn-off, Bryan soon with us and the four of us got back ‘in the train’ for the last few miles home.
A slight detour at Torrance from the ‘normal’ route added an extra 4 miles. After a stint at the front, knocking back some water, I found myself off the back of the group, and struggling to regain their back wheels. My recent “these hills are easy” self confidence was vanishing as quickly as the group were into the distance. A red light ahead spurred me to catch them, but they all stopped for a quick ‘which way is it’ just before the lights, allowing me catch up, chow down a banana and let them know “I’m suddenly done in”. Not good. We got going again, my energy slowly returning, but I still struggled on some of the slight uphill sections, pushing hard to stay in-group. The downhill to the second to last junction caused a bit of a stir, Sam in the lead coming to a near stop before shooting out, leaving the rest of us unclipped waiting for the traffic. As we’d just been coming downhill, I was in a high gear, so stood up and pushed hard up the first section of the last short hill before home, zipping ahead of Bryan and John, who not liking this ‘attack’ returned the favour as I hit ‘lactic acid’ threshold, sitting down as they zoomed by me before they too slowed up near the top. I rolled after them, catching up on the roundabout as we turned in to stop at the “Club House”, comparing averages as we hopped off our bikes and loaded them onto the cars. 18.5 mph. That was an ‘easy’ training ride? There’ll be none of that crazy speeding on the LEJOG.
The Sunday outing – emails had been flowing during the week discussing a coast to coast in late June, which then turned into debate over a Lakes ride instead and ended with the decision of doing a “Fred” (named after Fred Whitton, turns out this is a 112 miles ride of 9 peaks, some hitting 15%+ – no easy feat). The end of this email exchange also sorted Sunday’s training ride, a plan to take in the Dukes pass run with an extra 50-odd mile extension via Crieff, for a 120+ run. This time there was the promise of a lunch stop.
As this was going to be a long run, and the lunch stop was going to be timed to meet non-cycling family, needed to be up at silly o’clock for Big J picking me up at 7am for the start at 7:30 from the ‘club house’ (Gio’s place). We started as a 4 man group – Bryan, Gio, John and myself, with Gio intending to join us for the first 40 miles or so. The first 20-odd miles flew along, even with the wind against us we were easily topping 18mph average as we hit Aberfoyle and the climb up the Dukes pass.
We rode up as a group, with only the last section splitting us slightly, Bryan dropping back a short distance. I barely had time to take a few snaps before he was with us, “I’m not a climber” as he pulled alongside. The descent went without incident, the only traffic a bus toiling upwards, giving us plenty of room as we streamed by.
Just after the 40 mile mark, a quick stop for farewells to Gio, as he turned toward Callander and home, the three of us continuing onwards to Strathyre. The road rolled for the next several miles, the sun growing stronger and the shadows it was casting through the trees making it hard to distinguish potholes from leaf patterns adding in the occasional clunk and jolt to the ride. John took the pace, holding us steady for a long stint, switching back to turn-about as we passed by the glassy calm of Loch Lubnaig, the shores dotted with folk enjoying the early sun. We were making good time, enjoying the excellent weather and were soon turning along the A85 at Loch Earn, passing campers and day-trippers scattered along its edge, with barely a hill to be seen. The nice level tarmac saw us to Comrie (home to a fine golf course) and it was only another 10 or so miles to Crieff and a welcome stop at Yann’s.
We sprawled on the grass or at the table and were served coke and iced water by the friendly staff while waiting for Bryan and John’s other halves, enjoying the sunshine and break from pedalling. They soon arrived, and we sat down for a fine lunch – not quite a cake stop, but just as good: onion soup with a cheese topping followed by rump of lamb with minted-peas and chips for me, others partook of mushroom soup, black pudding salad, Arbroath smokies with mains of La Potee (Toulouse sausage & ham broth), fish pie and eggs Benedict; the kids tucking in to fish gujons, lasagne and chips. The only slight downers to this fine feast were the grumpy folk at the next table over-reacting to the excited children, and having to pass on dessert from being stuffed.
Bottles refilled, we said our goodbyes to the families, and hit the road for the remaining miles. A steady climb taking us through Muthill, then down to Braco and to Dunblane before turning off to Doune. Here we made a short stop to grab some energy drinks, the chilled water in our bottles (well, mine and Bryans were iced by the folk at Yann’s, John had refilled from the tap) already warm. The temperature in the small square was hitting 33-34°C according to my Garmin, as I tapped in our target of Kippen into its GPS, getting us on our way to Thornhill and the hill beyond. We rode up the first section together, John and I pushed on a little harder on the next steep section, but by the summit we were all together again for the descent down into Fintry and the Crow Road hill.
We trundled along the flat section, John announced himself ‘done’ but as soon as the climb came into view, he forged by me. My ‘thought you were done?’ was replied to with a ‘last throw of the dice!’ as he stood on the pedals into the corner and pulled away. I stuck to my pace, sat on the saddle, feeling ok considering the 110 miles we’d now completed and just kept turning the cranks. John was still in sight, standing at every turn, but I was beginning to reel him in. Feeling a bit short of energy (the lamb and magic minted-peas wearing off!) I struggled with my pack of Zip-vit sweets, trying to pry the now sticky, half melted goodness out of the bag while maintaining my momentum. Eventually got one out, chewed it down, and returned to focussing on John’s back wheel in the near distance. After a few more minutes I was in touch, with not far to go to the summit. “Where’s Tubs?” he asked, “not sure” I replied, and we moved on together. We stopped at the top, Bryan soon appearing, and we waved him on, then followed for the ride down into Lennoxtown.
I missed my clips as I started off, the others were fast vanishing as I finally got my left shoe in, so I was playing catch up down the hill. Pushing hard, I glanced down at my Garmin, to see it reading 45mph (!) scaring myself a bit, so eased off as I passed the car park and the turn. The wind soon put paid to any speed I was carrying, and I could see John and Bryan ahead, folded over the bikes as they disappeared from my view round a bend. I caught them at the bottom, waiting for me at the turn. John lead us for the next section, but as I swapped to the front, I offered to take a longer stint, to which there was no dissent. Strangely still feeling strong, I pushed on, the others hanging on to my wheel for a change. Stopping only for lights and junctions, Bryan asking if I’d been on “the EPO”?, “nope, just feeling ok” as we completed the final miles back to Gio’s to pick up the cars. The only momentary struggle on the final short hill before home, I was well pleased to have been able to return the favour of many a ‘carry’ for the last miles of an outing! A sterling ride by us all, 127 miles done, a proper “LEJOG” distance completed in around 7 hours, average 17.6mph.
With the LeJOG team in various parts of the world, a solo ride was on the cards for me on Sunday. My normal solo ride would normally involve the Eaglesham moor at some point but I have a tendency when cycling alone to let my mind switch off up until the point where someone in flip flops and a basket on the front of their bike passes me which only then spurs me back into action. Also, having unfortunately had to work on Saturday, a long day in the saddle wasn’t going to happen. In the end, I opted for a short sharp shock where concentration would be essential, 2 circuits of the Lennoxtown loop which takes in the mighty Tak Ma Doon and Crow Road hills. 26 miles each time round.
However, no matter what preparation is done there is always something forgotten. It’s not like riding a bike as a child, when you jumped on your bike and went. This time I find my Garmin is not charged so no on the road output for me, it might be a good thing, at least I won’t worry about my average.
Last week might have brought out the summer bike with me but it was back on with the winter clothing. As I arrived at Lennoxtown, the temperature gauge on the car was showing 0 degrees!
I load up ‘Map my ride’ on my phone as an alternative to the Garmin but can’t watch while in the saddle, so all I need to worry about is riding.
Off I go, the roads are quiet and it’s a beautiful day all round, no worries about ice on the road even though it’s a low temperature. I am feeling good, don’t know that my heart rate is or speed is but it’s all going well – old school – just riding for fun. Couple of miles before the Tak ma doon, I pop my first gel of the day. Not my usual brand, but it was all they had in Asda but goes down well. I turn into the Tak Ma Doon rood but soon find out it is not the Tak Ma Doon road but the wee side street 5 yards before, the car coming out the junction put me off! So I U turn and up I go up the right one. This is a hill that used to hold a lot of fear, but doing it myself on the new bike it feels ok, possibly because I am not watching the G-train shoot up in front of me and feeling the need to try and catch up. I pass Kilysth golf course, it’s a golf course I have played and my minds starts debating about how I am going to squeeze in any golf this year. Golf and Cycling, the 2 hobbies that require the most time out of the diary. I push on and upwards and stop at the car park at the top, where I usually see the rest of the guys waiting on me but there is not a soul today. I take a picture of the horizon and set off again.
Straight downhill, which is always marred by having to slow down for the ford at the bottom and never being in the right gear when going up the wee hill at the other side.
I push on along the Carron valley, there is a bit of wind coming into the face and I am having to work hard. I pass a farm giving away ‘free manure’ but decide now is not the time to fill up. I had forgotten how bad the road surface was along here, soon to be feature on Sky ‘When road surfaces go bad’. It’s a beautiful scene, no other cyclist at the moment or anyone else. I finish the bit around the loch and start heading downhill to the start of the Crow road. The start of the Crow road is the worst, and there is a break and then it’s bad again but after that it’s ok, steady as she goes. When you see the fir tree with the Christmas decorations you know the worst is over and you can start to look forward to the downhill. I am starting to see some cyclists now coming up as I am going down, it’s hard to acknowledge when you are going fast but I do my best. I normally like to check out their bikes as well, but it’s time to concentrate, there is a big bend coming up, not sure I want to hit the ramblers in the car park. I get down without incident and have a quick stop at the car. A Nakd bar and a check of the phone, battery has went from 42% to 13% running map my ride, it’s not going to make round 2.
Off again, and I think a bit more effort is required. It’s only 09:30 so things are still pretty quiet. Newspapers and rolls are being bought for Sunday breakfast as I leave Lennoxtown. It’s fairly flat so I try and push a big gear. Nothing much of incident on the way to the Tak Ma Doon round 2, lots of thoughts in my head but have not fallen asleep at the wheel yet. I hit the Tak Ma Doon again, and I think I can feel it slightly more in the legs, possibly because I pushed harder on the flat. Up past the golf course, and it’s looking busy now, more debate in the head. I do love golf, and with the Masters starting this week, that feeling is sure to grow. Might have to start getting up at 5 rather than 6 every morning to squeeze in enough cycling for LeJog. Up at the top, I stop again and gaze at the slightly changing horizon, the sheep have woken up and are eating their breakfast, not too exciting by the looks of it, bit like some of the smoothies I have taken to drinking in the quest for cycling domination.
So, it’s back down the other side and as I join the main road, a couple of cyclists are going by and I come in behind for a rest, but they are chatting so the pace is not good. I go past them, but think I go off too fast but it’s no time now to slow down and face the embarrassment of them passing me again. I give myself a good few minutes before I look back and luckily I can’t see them. Back along the loch again and things are starting to liven up, I can see a couple of small boats with fisherman with rods looking for a bite. I pass another couple of cyclists, although I think one is a tourer and the other guy is just having a chat with him. I say my ‘hello’s’ and move on, swiftly again. I pop another gel before the Crow Road again and then I see the sign for Lennoxtown as I turn onto the road, 7 miles. In reality is 3 miles up and then relax, not too bad when you put it like that. Up ahead, I spot a couple of cyclists up the hill a bit and set myself the task of getting up to them. This would be an unknown phenomena for me but I see them standing quite a lot as they go so up think they might be struggling. It’s a good goal to have and I feel myself gaining on them, I get the feeling that comes when you have worked hard for a while and things start to click. I go by the first cyclist and then have a quick chat with the second, I get the feeling he is not pushing as hard as he could to support his friend but nevertheless an overtake is an overtake and off I go. I am flying now and looking forward to the last stretch down to the car. There is a bit of wind in the face, but it feels good to push the pedals downhill fast on the smooth road. As I enter Lennoxtown, the temporary lights change to green and straight through I go, down to the car.
It’s 11:30 and 52 miles are done. I put the powder in my spare bottle for my recovery shake, my loss % is only 5%, down 8% from last week and drink it down. Bike on the car, radio 5 live on and off home. Arrive shortly after 12 and next up is the park, to the climbing frame with the wee man who is looking like the new Chris Bonnigton. Go up Again? Ok Again 🙂